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Monday, June 18, 2012
Three things to watch at Bills minicamp

By James Walker

The Buffalo Bills will begin their three-day, mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. It's a last chance to get a look at the team before training camp.

Here are three things to keep an eye on:

No. 1: Return of Steve Johnson

Buffalo's No. 1 receiver signed a five-year contract extension this offseason but is recovering from groin surgery that's kept him out of team drills. Johnson is anxious to get back in the mix and says he will be ready to participate in this three-day camp. It's a chance for Johnson to get quality work in before training camp. He will be a huge part of Buffalo's passing game, especially since there's still questions of who will be Buffalo's No. 2 receiver. But Johnson should be careful not to push it too hard this week. Groin injuries can be tricky and easily re-aggravated.

No. 2: Buffalo's pass rush

It's difficult to gauge football in the trenches during a non-contact minicamp. I said the same thing about the New England Patriots and New York Jets last week. But pass rush is a major emphasis for Buffalo and the team needs to continue working on it and knowing the assignments. The Bills have a lot of depth on the defensive line. For example, defensive ends Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman provide an impressive rotation if everyone stays healthy. I'm particularly curious about Merriman's progress, who is coming off two season-ending Achilles injuries. It was be a big boost to the Bills if "Lights Out" rounds back into form.

No. 3: Backup QBs

While other teams like the Jets and Miami Dolphins have higher-profile quarterback competitions, Buffalo has an intriguing battle of its own between backups Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen. These two players are competing for the No. 2 role behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. But what's more interesting is the loser of this competition most likely won't make the team. The Bills are planning to use a quarterback roster spot on the versatile Brad Smith, who can play multiple positions. Fitzpatrick will be the starter, and the best man between Young and Thigpen will be No. 2. Young has the bigger name and more in-game experience, but this is Thigpen's second year in the system. This competition will reach its peak in training camp and the preseason. But getting the edge in minicamp is a nice feather in someone's cap.